Rebel without a pause: ‘Kabir Singh’ is ‘Arjun Reddy’ reloaded

Film: “Kabir Singh”; Writer-director: Sandeep Reddy Vanga; Cast: Shahid Kapoor, Kiara Advani, Suresh Oberoi, Arjan Bajwa and Kamini Kaushal; Rating:**** (4 stars)

Remakes, more often than not, disappoint. This one doesn’t. “Kabir Singh” doesn’t quite better its precursor, the astonishing game-changing Telugu film “Arjun Reddy”. And really, Shahid Kapoor is no patch on Vijay Deverakonda, who sweated, bled and urinated (literally) into his despicably misogynistic character, investing into this weird thoroughly reprehensible child-man, a kind of contemporary resonance that makes for a bizarre blend of Devdas, James Dean and all the rebels without a pause that we have encountered before and after Amitabh Bachchan’s Angry Young Man.

The question is, Kabir Singh (nee Arjun Reddy) ko gussa kyon aata hai? Not unlike Naseeruddin Shah’s Albert Pinto, Shahid Kapoor’s Kabir Singh is a very troubled livid man threatening, swearing, drinking and fornicating his way through a life and support system. It makes you wonder why Kabir has it. The life and the support system.

It is strange beyond all definition of strangeness that this thankless, self-absorbed, foul-mouthed and ill-tempered Kabir is loved and protected by a cordon of family, colleagues and best friend Shiva (Soham Majumdar) who seem to see some sort of sublimity behind Kabir’s uncouth behaviour which we the audience can’t.

It’s not easy to like Arjun or his revamped avatar Kabir. The character is so flawed and fractured, so fuelled and felled by its own inbuilt anger that every move he makes seems one more step towards self-annihilation.

The writer-director gives his anti-hero the full slowburn treatment. There is no effort to show Kabir in a kind light. And that’s for the best. The only way we can accept this ‘protagonist’ is if we don’t analyse his raging aberrations. It takes all sorts to build this godforsaken universe that we occupy. “Kabir Singh” is as low-level as it gets for humanity.

Not surprisingly, Kabir, a senior intern in a medical college, succeeds in bullying the timid, tremulous medical student Preeti into believing he has fallen so passionately in love with her, she must reciprocate in kind. What follows is an embarrassing array of stalking scenes and a stream of smooches and lovemaking, all indicating a very high level of subverted intensity in a man whose morals equal that of an alley cat.

The brilliance of this film about rebellion, love and self-destruction, resides in the rawness of the scenes and the hurtful nature of words that characters use against one another. The dialogues capture Kabir’s shocking lack of self control. In the second half, when Preeti has rightly dumped Kabir, he asks a female friend, a Madhuri Dixit lookalike (Nikita Dutta) if she would like to satisfy his “physical needs” with no strings attached. This obnoxious offer is made in the tone of a demi-God bestowing a favour to a subject.

Shahid plays this toxic intoxicated man with a furious flair for seething emotions. His Kabir simmers with discontent. But the performance lacks the freshness of what Vijay Deverakonda brought to the character in the original Telugu version. Also, I felt the venomous emotions, though expressed with a disturbing sincerity, never quite reach Shahid’s eyes.

Here is an actor in full control of his character’s uncontrollable emotions, not quite able to process those emotions to their fullest. A flawed, but nonetheless remarkable performance.

That the character obtains his redemption at the end is only because the screenplay wants to be kind to him. This man deserves no second or third chances. Making the redemptive moment unbearably undeserved is Kiara Advani, whose emotional outburst at Shahid’s reformative whining flies everywhere as though making a last-bid effort to match her co-star’s ongoing hysteria, like a man PMS-ing throughout the month (Kabir’s best friend’s description).

Though at times, “Kabir Singh” gets as flawed as its protagonist, it is nonetheless one of the most important films in living memory, right up there with “Dil Chahta Hai” and “Rang De Basanti” in divulging what the young urban Indian male thinks of the plans life makes for him.

“Kabir Singh” is the classic middle-finger film. Its hero is so consumed by his anger, he can’t see how angry he makes others feel with his insensitive behaviour. At the end, we are left feeling as bereft as the people who stand by Kabir. They don’t deserve this. But we do.

BY SUBHASH K. JHA